Issue 008

Witness Video Hub

The Witness Video Hub is helping people document human rights abuses when YouTube and governments don't cooperate. Plus Big Thinker Sushmita Ghosh.

When Peter Gabriel co-founded Witness in 1992, the idea was to supply video cameras to people in the developing world to document human rights abuses. But the market beat them to it: Africa's cell-phone industry is the fastest growing in the world, and nearly everyone with a phone has or will soon have a camera. So Witness has changed gears, and is now focusing on capturing, amplifying, and disseminating user-generated videos.If someone captures footage of torture in, say, Burma, and posts it to YouTube, two things may happen. YouTube may take the video down for violating its policy against violent footage, and Burma may shut down the country's internet, as is did earlier this year when citizen journalists uploaded videos of police beating saffron-robed monks. Unlike Burma, most states with an interest in repressing speech (think China) cannot afford to shut down an entire nation's internet capabilities; instead, they censor individual websites. That's where Witness comes in: It can ensure that videos uploaded to their site are held there permanently, in servers sitting in an undisclosed country.BIG THINKER:

Sushmita Ghosh

The open-source concept created a whole new way of doing business, reinventing the pathway to huge scale and impact. For example, eBay has the users doing the work, in a self-regulating community. The trick is to simply think through the incentives for the community to grow itself in a transparent way, for collective conscience to rise against someone who breaches the code of ethics. I believe that applying these open source principles to the building of a global network of communities could redefine how social innovations get big. This approach could unite and amplify those innovations and greatly accelerate their impact-just as it did for business. Innovators who are driven by the desire to fix social problems have a built-in incentive to make the engineering of their solutions totally transparent, because that's the only way they're going to spread their change.Sushmita Ghosh served a five-year term as president of Ashoka (one of GOOD's nonprofit partners) and is now as a member of Ashoka's Leadership Team.

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Useful Void

Harvard professor Viktor Mayer-Schöenberger thinks the internet should learn to forget.

The Harvard professor Viktor Mayer-Schöenberger thinks the internet should learn to forget. He argues that because trivial and private information has died with people for millennia, the web-which has become a repository of everything both trivial and private about each of us-shouldn't change that potential for a "useful void." He is advocating for "data ecology" which would, among other things, allow people to privately use the web without leaving a public (and permanent) record of their every move therein. Good news for anyone who's ever tasted the noxious mix of scotch and MySpace.

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Spore

Spore is putting the nerdy stuff back into video games. Plus Big Thinker Nicholas Negroponte.

For a vision of Earth populated not by pesky humans but by benevolent sentient birds with claws and spiny tails, look no further than Spore, the long delayed game from legendary designer Will Wright (SimCity, The Sims), which will be released this year. In the game, you help your tiny protozoa evolve slowly into a thriving civilization bent on interplanetary conflict (the other planets are populated by the creations of other networked Spore players). As games find more and more ways of mindlessly blowing people up-we're looking at you, Halo-it's great to see someone putting the nerdy parts back into video games (but fear not, there will certainly be explosions).BIG THINKER:

Nicholas Negroponte

All of us learn to walk and talk by interacting with the world around us, getting immediate rewards for doing so. Suddenly, at about age 6, we do most or all of our learning by being told, either by books or teachers. Very little is left to play and interaction. In general, computers in education will change that, making a child's learning more seamless, more directly in his or her control.I am often asked how I know One Laptop Per Child will work. And yet each person who asks me has given his child or grandchild a laptop or desktop computer. Does this mean it is good for the rich, but maybe not for the poor? Then people ask me, why give a laptop to a child who is malnourished, unclothed, and without pure drinking water? My reply is simple. Substitute the word "education" for "laptop" and you will never ask that again.Nicholas Negroponte is the director of One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that has produced an inexpensive, internet-connected laptop to distribute to children around the world.

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YouPorn

It was only a matter of time before the addictive convenience of YouTube extended to that other thing we love about the internet.

It was only a matter of time before the addictive convenience of YouTube extended to that other thing we love best about the internet. Now, less than a year after it was founded, YouPorn-where users can upload their own amateur sex videos-is a categorical slam dunk, with almost 15,000 free videos available right now (and most of them much longer-and better-than the 30-second free clips your friends find elsewhere). Boasting the highest traffic of any adult site on the internet, YouPorn is clear proof that not all things are best left to the pros.

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Large Hadron Collider

This $6 billion, 16-mile-long particle accelerator might help us understand the fabric of reality. Plus other Literally Big Ideas.

Do the words "Higgs boson," "grand unified theory," or "strong force" mean anything to you? Probably not. Here's what you need to know: Buried underneath parts of Switzerland and France is 16-mile-long circular tunnel called the Large Hadron Collider, which cost nearly $6 billion to build. When the LHC opens this spring, protons inside it will be accelerated to nearly the speed of light before crashing into each other in a subatomic head-on collision. The studies of the resulting explosions may help physicists dramatically increase their understanding of the most basic levels of the universe, including the possible observation of "the God particle," the thing that gives all other particles mass, and which physicists theoretically know exists but have never seen. The findings at the LHC probably wont result in a new line of computers or change your life (at least not right away). But that's missing the point-this is discovery for discovery's sake.

Literally Big Ideas

These ideas aren't just big, they're huge-literally.Breeze Avenue, by Richard GrossmanThe experimental novelist Richard Grossman's new book is 3 million pages long. That's 4,000 750-page volumes, loosely based on Dante's Divine Comedy, translated back and forth between multiple languages, including Yiddish and Latin. Get ready for the world's longest CliffsNotes.New Safe ConfinementThe Ukrainian government has commissioned a $505-million, 500-foot-tall, 350-foot-wide steel hangar on wheels, called the New Safe Confinement, to encase the site of the Chernobyl power plant. It will be built a safe distance from the decaying reactor, and rolled into place once complete. Inside, automated cranes will disassemble the contaminated Reactor Four, restricting human contact to almost nil.Glacier WrappingSince the Swiss can't stop global warming by themselves, the government has decided to do what it can in the meantime to stop its Gurschen glacier from melting any more than it already has. To ward off the sun they've covered Gurschen in 43,000 square feet of reflective foil. Christo it ain't, but it seems to be getting the job done.Earth SandwichAccording to video blogger Ze Frank, what the Earth really needs is to be made into a sandwich. His logic? If two people put slices of bread on the ground on opposite sides of the Earth, the resulting sandwich will remind us that we're all in this together. His site facilitates this geo-culinary endeavor, with a user gallery of uploaded pictures of slices and their corresponding global completion points. So far the planet has only been served open-faced, and those of us in the lower 48 are out of luck: Our sandwiches would have to be closed somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

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